Archive for April, 2010
Those of you old enough to remember The Happidrome will reacall the opening ditty which spoke of ’we three…just a set of twerps are we, Enoch ,Ramsbottom and me’. When I was a mere whippet there was no TV and such indoor highlights as we enjoyed were headed by the batty three. It all came flooding back last evening when I watched the Leaders Debate.
I found myself trying to relate the three would-be Prime Ministers to those zany characters and was helped by the fact that at British Leyland we tended to ascribe nicknames to those we liked or otherwise. I found it easy to relate our version of Ramsbottom to David Cameron. The BL ‘Ramsbottom’ was extremely posh and always looked as if newly polished. He was extremely clever but widely disliked due to his aloof manner and tenency to bully lesser mortals. He was the guy one avoided in the canteen.
The BL ‘Enoch’ was definitely an early version of Nick Clegg. An excellent Personnel Manager, one always grabbed a seat on his table if one was spare for he could brighten the darkest day. Like the original Enoch he was always optimistic and good for a laugh. He wasn’t a disciplinarian but always got good results from his team. Very much one of the boys he tended to confine his aggression to the football field in those long-gone days when tackling was allowed.
The one we called ‘Me’ was an accountant and always seemed to know how to keep us in the black. But he again was avoided in the canteen where he would plough through three courses of Peter Merchant delights whilst extolling in excruciating detail the principles of cash flow. We kept clear of him not because we disliked him but because we understood not one word of what he said. He is the nearest memoryI can relate to Gordon Brown.
It is probably unfair to draw such anologies with messrs Cameron, Brown and Clegg but it was after all simply a show. Most of last night’s polls gave Cameron and Clegg equal rating with poor old Gordon lagging behind. But like the ‘Me’ of old he is probably the only one that actually knows what he is talking about on the economy.
One hopes that we sufficient self understanding to resist basing our votes on image be it overpowering or humorous and find in six months time that we are back in a recession deeper than the foundations of Hadrian’s wall.
By all means let Enoch be in the team but boring though he may be I would prefer ‘Me’ Gordon in charge for so long as our financial stability is in the balance. Not that any of them compare with Lady Gaga!
At least that is what Cyril Smith told me at a Sportsmans Dinner many years ago. It certainly seemed that way yesterday. Sadly what happened told us a lot about Gordon Brown but before political opponents go all holier-than-thou it is perhaps reasonable to assume that the only difference is that they are more careful with microphones.
For me the incident with Mrs Duffy raises a far bigger issue. I recall being in Salisbury at the time of the 1951 election. Our group of airmen was out on the town when we came across a mass meeting of thousands. A Minister supporting a candidate was, through a megaphone, answering questions posed by electors using cupped hands. I remember that he was receiving a great deal of stick about something called The Groundnuts Scheme which to this day I don’t understand
But the point is that he was meeting large numbers of voters in an unstructured discussion. Everyone could judge him by his answers and everyone could traipse home feeling that they had had their say whilst he could drive off in his Morris Eight knowing what was on the public’s mind. Today every political event is stage managed. Wearing make up -that wouldn’t have gone down well in the 50s- our leaders and Ministers are shielded from anyone likely to disagree Even in events such as the Leaders Debate the audience is carefully vetted to ensure that no one breaks the rules of no applause, no heckling.
The army of spin-doctors and PR experts -how does one become an expert in talking to folk- now surrounding Messrs Brown and Cameron even briefs them on when and how to smile and stand. It is all utterly phoney. But worse still it locks those who would lead us in a little world of unreality. Gordon Brown probably didn’t even know that we all talk about the things that Gillian Duffy raised.
The odds are that the incident has confirmed the personal fate of Mr Brown whoever wins. One would like to believe that it will also lead to a far more open style of public contact. Yes in this day and age security imposes some limits but the only metaphorical screen surrounding senior politicians should be one of security not one filtering out the disgruntled.
It is time to say goodbye to the age of so called spinners. They mislead us, they mislead their masters. Come to think about it they can’t even do that well. Even a ten year old would remenber to turn off microphones!
Chorley readers will be intrigued to know that for the first time in living memory the town has appeared in Private Eye. In fact we are number one in the list of ‘Electionballs’.
According to the latest Eye, Chorley residents were invited to vote for ‘Forename’ after Tory candidate Alan Cullens failed to enter his personal details in a template created by Conservative Central Office. The leaflets were ditched but not before around 3000 copies had been distributed in the town centre.
No harm done then and we needed a laugh to lighten the increasing gloom of an election which seems likely to be won by the Party promising to make the most severe cuts in public services. Now there’s a first! And to add to our sense of impending doom independent experts have said that all three leaders are failing to reveal all. In other words on election day plus one we could learn that we have just voted for service reductions the like of which we have never seen even in our worst nightmares.
According to the pundits Nick Clegg has been franker than the others or, as they put it, is ‘less bad than them’. It really is incredible that deception on this scale is taking place. It is easier to forgive the Lib/Dems because frankly they didn’t anticipate the possibility of winning until the new mega star hammered Snooty Dave and Grumpy Gordon. But the other two have absolutely no excuse for not revealing all.
Both Labour and Tories must have detailed plans ready for the budget that will be launched within six weeks of victory. In Brown’s case there may well be no short term cuts to reveal since his stance is that cuts within the first year would trigger a disastrous recession. But Cameron talks of billion pound savings within six months. Hi silenec means either that they are so severe that he dare not tell us or that the figure is simply a fantasy.
Yesterday I wrote of Michael Foot. He would have told all. Mind you he wouldn’t have won and one senses that with the current contenders power is all that matters. Honesty? You must be joking!
Someone at our Ferret Club cmmented that there is no such thing as an honest politician. He was probably alluding to the current election but I had to take issue with him. I knew and loved Michael Foot. He was unique. He was honest to a fault. It was easy to disagree with Michael but impossible not to love his lack of guile and pretentiousness. What you saw was what you got.
Of course he would have been a failure in the current leadership contest. Anyone saying exactly what they thought and dressing according to what was on the nearest hook would be denegrated by public and critics alike. There are no marks for authenticity or passion. Micheal had these in abundance and they led to his downfall in an election and even at a cenataph.
I last met Michael Foot in Manchester. He was travelling alone and carrying a rucksack. His only concession to advancing years was a chair when speaking but he did confess that old age ‘is not all it’s cracked up to be’. He seemed to view many of the leaders of the day as false. Perhaps he found it hard to believe that fellow politicians could not see the importance of saying what was in their minds, offend or please. But how refreshing to meet one that did.
Michael was a passionate orator, author, pamphleteer and journalist. He was a campaigning politician who fought for what he believed in. He cared , he railed against what he saw as the injustices of a society where the rich gained at the expense of the poor. He was the last of the great socialists. His self understanding was absolute, he knew who he was and what he believed in and that was what he proclaimed.
Michael finally laid down his pen and sword on March 4th. He was 96. It sounds odd to be devastated by the news of a death at this age but I was. I so wanted him to make a century. The picture of a centenarian wearing a duffle coat waving his stick angrily at half-truths had hovered unchallenged for many years in my minds eye.
I know the old adage that the graveyards are full of the indispensible but in terms of MPs I contend that there is an exception. When Lindsay Hoyle, the MP for Chorley, eventually hangs up his boots he will leave an unfillable gap. He is arguably the finest constituency MP in parliament, a claim borne out by the record number of questions he asks. And they are all about Chorley. Notionally a Labour MP, Lindsay would be more accurately described as a Chorley one.
I am surely not alone in seeing Nick Clegg as a breath of fresh air after the most shameful year in political history. Frankly he would have won my cross if it were to be based on my desire to cry plague on both their houses but here in Chorley we are uniquely blessed with a 24/7 champion who has won concession after concession for the town of his birth.
Many of all political leanings tell me of battles he has fought on their behalf and when thousands turned out to applaud the proud memorial to the Chorley PALS that he has worked so hard for it was as if everyone had come together to say thankyou for all that you do. But my special memory is the fight he led to save the hospital.
I was Chairman at the time and when news came that the Primary Care Trust was building a centre to house a private provider who would take over our outpatients services I knew that we were facing a huge crisis. The nature of NHS funding is such that hospitals fund the costly and complex procedures through income earned from the routine and relatively easy treatments. My calculation was that if we lost outpatients it would be necessary at the very least to integrate emergency services at Chorley into Preston.
Early protests drew an assurance that a series of public consultations would be held. The Governors of our Foundation trust had no confidence that these would produce other than a claimed endorsement of the plan for privatisation. It was with some hesitation that I approached Lindsay who after all was notionally a member of the government proposing to slay us . His reaction was immediate. I was born in that hospital and it is crucial to Chorley. This isn’t going to happen was his declaration. What followed is now part of the history of the town.
The first meeting shocked everyone. Following Lindsay’s call for the public to fight thousands turned out and the meeting was swamped and chaotic. The second one was held at St Mary’s Hall and eventaully had to be abandoned. the hall was packed but thousands queued outside and tempers frayed. Lindsay walked the throngs an dmanaged to keep a semblance of order but again a meeting was impossible. The third attempt to hold a consultation was arranged for the largest venue in the town, the town hall Lancastrian suite. The police were asked to attend.
Throughout all this both Lindsay and myself were subjected to threats the like of which I never experienced even in the robust Truck industry. But by now the MP was leading an estimated 12,000 signatories to his petition and he faced up to the then Secretary of State, Patricia Hewitt. On the eve of the town hall meeting it was announced that the proposed Assessment and Treatment centre was to be run by the NHS at Chorley hospital. To this day it is the only one in the country.
I have never quite recovered from the fact that a Labour government was proposing this. It also had the tacit support of many Conservatives but that was understandable. To me the most amazing aspect of the whole affair was the willingness of Lindsay to defy his own colleagues . Clearly Chorley was his priority.
Given the usual type of MP committed to obeying the whips and towing the Party line we would have lost our hospital, our TA barracks, bus passes and a host of other things that may not be important to London but mean a lot here.
I personally hope that the day will dawn when elected representatives are independently minded and put their patch before all else. But therein lies destruction of promotion prospects and villification from on high. For now I will settle for what we have, a fighter who fears no one and cares only about his home town.
He isn’t called The Terrier for nothing!